Ribboned with cracks and crevices the limestones of County Clare in the area known as The Burren produce one of Europe’s most distinctive landscapes and for a few short weeks in late spring a fabulous show to attract those of a botanical bent.
Formed millions of years ago beneath long-forgotten tropical seas, the unique landscape means farming has to be hardy and unique. Although the rock may appear bare and barren, the agricultural tradition is strong, dating back almost 6,000 years. Countless livestock graze the hills in winter, clearing the ground of tough grasses and making way for a wonderfully diverse and lovely spring flora. Look closer at the initially completely wild looking landscapes and you‘ll see plenty of evidence of man’s long stay in this terrain. There are over eighty tombs dating from the Mesolithic to the Iron Age scattered across the limestone, the most famous Poulnabrone, a gravity-defying portal dolmen that has perched here for over 5,800 years, guarding the remains of 22 people buried over the course of six centuries.
The Burren though is perhaps most famous for its unusual and beautiful flora. It’s not so much the diversity – over 70% of Ireland’s 900 species are found here – more it’s the great beauty of both the flowers themselves and the way in which they grow. The Burren is famous for its orchids with 24 out of Ireland’s 28 species having been found here. Some flower later but still we’ll see the fine spectacle of massed Early Purple Orchids, here in an unusual mix of purples, pinks and whites! The ‘spotted orchids’, Dactylorhizas, come in a bewildering variety. There’s the lovely almost ivory Dactylorhiza okellyi, unique to Ireland and there’s the delicately coloured varieties of Early Marsh Orchid, purple-lined coccinea and salmon pink cruenta. Common Spotted and Heath Spotted Orchids are … common, and there’s the local Dactylorhiza kerryensis, an offshoot of the majalis group. And there’s Dense-flowered Orchids too and they are not rare! It may seem surprising to find this distinctive little orchid here as one would more normally associate it with warmer Mediterranean climes, but it’s not the only seeming imposter here. For what fascinates more than anything about the Burren and its flowers is the juxtaposition of Arctic-Alpine with Mediterranean and these in turn rubbing shoulders with the Lusitanian. The latter are plants from the warm and wet Atlantic fringes. The windflower Dryas octopetala might be the classic Arctic representative whilst showering slopes in a lovely blue is Gentiana verna a species more normally associated with Europe’s high mountains. We’ll seek the lovely Fair Foxglove on miniature cliffs, whilst little fairy dells are decorated with large-flowered Butterwort, Fen Violet and heath Dog Violet (and their hybrids) and we’ll find rarities such as Pyramidal Bugle. Grey Seals eye us warily as we explore saltmarshes where we’ll find lax-flowered sea lavender and sea mouse-ear. Our hotel is just up the road from the famous bird colonies on the Cliffs of Moher and so we’ll have a chance to get great views of Puffins as well as Razorbills, Guillemots and Black Guillemots. Loop Head sticks way out into the Atlantic and so the scenery is wonderfully wild and the tight coastal turf full of colour too. We’ll also have a chance of seeing some seabirds maybe including a shearwater or two from the famed Bridges of Ross. But in the end, it’s the colourful pastiche of gleaming yellow Hoary Rockrose, dark blue, sometimes pink Milkwort, all splashed with brilliant red of Geranium sanguineum, that decorates the cracks and crevices ribboning County Clare’s limestone that will live in the memory forever.
Very gentle. However please note that limestone pavement is notoriously slippery when wet.
Included in the Price
All flights. All accommodation, transport and meals in Ireland. Tips. Boat trip to the Arran Islands. Services of your leaders. Please note: items of a personal nature including insurance are not included.
One leader for a group of up to 6, two leaders up to the maximum group size of 12.
For the entire holiday we’ll be staying the wonderful Ballinalacken Castle Country Hotel stunningly situated on a grassy slope not far above the Atlantic coast that nearby culminates in the Cliffs of Moher. The hotel and the castle overlooking it have been in the O’Callaghan family for three generations, the original house was owned by the famous O’Brien clan – a royal and noble dynasty who were descendants of the High King of Ireland, Brian Ború. The hotel has its roots as a grand haven of relaxation and luxury for the gentry of the 1930s and today is a marvellous base to explore the beauty, both the flowers, and the scenery, found in this wonderful part of County Clare.
UK flights are from London Heathrow direct to Dublin returning from Shannon to London Heathrow. Indirect and direct routes from other regional UK Airports* may be available.
*These routes may incur a supplement.
Variable! Generally mild but changeable with sunny spells and showers, and some longer outbreaks of rain, sometimes quite cool and windy.
How to Book
Contact us to check there is availability for the number of places you require. Download a booking form or contact us and we will send one to you. Complete and send to us. You will receive confirmation of your place and then a detailed information pack will be dispatched to you about twelve weeks before departure. Flower checklists are available.